Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unstuck Magazine and Literary Genre Fiction

This Saturday, in Austin, I attended the launch party for Unstuck #1.


The goal of the new magazine is to blend literary fiction with speculative/fantastic fiction. Unstuck will only come out once a year, which is probably good since, at more than 300 pages, I'll be able to take my time with the journal.

The launch party, at the Hyde Park Theater, featured dramatic readings of four stories. "Monument" by Amelia Gray, "Death and the All-Night Donut Shop" by Rachel Swirsky, "Second Grade" by Charles Antin and "An Account of My Neighbors"  by Edward Carey.

Each story was read by a single actor, and the Edward Carey story was read by Edward Carey.

"An Account of My Neighbors" will appear in Issue #2 of Unstuck and was the most enjoyable performance of the show. Carey's narrator is a hyper-aware, most likely unstable, observer of his neighbor's peculiar tendencies. For example, one of his downstairs neighbors has a disease unique to fish, and another neighbor has a small dog that smokes Winston Lights on the roof. The narrator clamors for, but seems unlikely to find, peace and quiet. Carey's story manages to be both disturbingly funny and sweet. It's impossible not to feel sorry for the manic narrator even while laughing at his ridiculousness.

The other three stories appear in Issue #1. Charles Antin's piece really stuck out for me and is, hopefully, a good indicator of the type of fiction to be found in Unstuck. Antin's story is narrated by a second-grade teacher whose male students (all but one) have joined the army and are fighting a war overseas. The story is alternately chilling and darkly humorous as we follow the class's slow descent into entropy.

Antin's story occupies that middle ground between genre and literary fiction. The events in his story, and in the Swirsky and Gray stories as well, are not quite realistic. The emphasis, however, is not on the fantastic nature of the events but on the very real, human reactions of the characters living in this bizarre yet recognizable world. We never get an explanation of what war is being fought in Antim's story, or what kind of afterlife the ghosts in Swirsky's story are stuck in.

The point isn't to explain everything, but to tell stories about real people in unusual circumstances. Lovers of pure fantasy stories won't get the world-building they're used to, and lovers of purely literary fiction might be uneasy with all the weird stuff happening in these stories. But that's the point.

Unstuck  will be having another reading in Austin early 2012, and the journal is currently in bookstores and available for order online.

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